The Flamborough and Filey Coast SPA protects the UK’s largest mainland breeding seabird colony
Over 250,000 birds nest along the Flamborough and Filey coast between March and September, including the only mainland colony of gannets in England and one of the largest population of kittiwakes in the UK. The cliffs are also home to the famous puffins and their cousins, the guillemots and razorbills.
The SPA provides protection to the cliffs which the birds depend on and extends 2km out to sea, affording protection for inshore waters which are important to the seabird’s breeding behaviours. This internationally-recognised designation forms part of the Flamborough Head European Marine Site (EMS) and is underpinned by the Flamborough Head Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).2022 Flamborough Head EMS Annual Report
How is the protected area managed?
The protected areas around the Flamborough and Filey coast are managed by a partnership of organisations. These organisations, known as Relevant Authorities, have a legal duty to uphold the protection afforded to the area’s important species and habitats. Working together, the eleven Relevant Authorities and a core group of other key partners, share their expertise and resources to provide proactive management to the Flamborough Head EMS.
Many activities, such as fishing or developments, which take place around the Flamborough and Filey Coast SPA are licensed by individual Relevant Authorities. When issuing permissions or licences, the Authority must take into account any potential impacts on the protected area. Non-licensable activities, such as recreational activities, are jointly managed by all Authorities.
The Relevant Authorities have agreed a five-year Management Plan for the Flamborough Head EMS (including the SPA). The Management Plan describes the importance of the site, the activities which are known to take place within the boundaries of the protected area, and the active or planned management for each of those activities.2022 – 2026 Flamborough Head EMS Management Plan
Features of the SPA
The Flamborough Head and Bempton Cliffs SPA was originally designated in 1993 for its internationally important colony of Kittiwakes. In 2016, the protected area was extended and renamed as the Flamborough and Filey Coast SPA. This extension provided specific protection to another three species, the overall seabird assemblage, and the terrestrial cliff environment of Filey Brigg. The revised SPA also protects the inshore waters around the seabird breeding cliffs, from mean low water to 2km offshore.
On behalf of Natural England, the RSPB carries out annual monitoring of the seabird colony. Find out more at the link below.Seabird Monitoring Programme
Kittiwakes are a medium-sized gull that spend the majority of their lives at sea. Unlike their larger cousins the Herring Gulls, Kittiwakes are specialist feeders that rely on juvenile sandeels (small shoaling fish) through the breeding season. Kittiwakes are known to forage more than 200km offshore, so can be affected by large-scale offshore energy developments. Each year, approximately 51,000 pairs of Kittiwakes nest within the protected area.
One of the most numerous seabirds in the colony, approximately 61,000 pairs of Guillemots breed on the cliffs each year. Guillemots pursue their prey through the water, using their wings to ‘swim’ and catch small fish. Guillemots are actually dark brown, rather than black, and some have a white ring around the eye with a white stripe behind it. When ready to fledge, the young flightless chicks (known as jumplings) jump from the cliff and follow their dad on a swimming migration into the North Sea.
Razorbills are black and white, with a distinctive white stripe across their thick bills. There are around 20,000 pairs of Razorbills within the SPA, with the number steadily increasing since the 1960s. Much like Guillemots, Razorbills lay a single conical shaped egg on the bare rock and share parental duties throughout the season. They can often be seen nesting amongst guillemots, but tend to prefer a bit more space!
Over 27,000 Gannets are present during the summer months, creating the only mainland gannetry in England. With an impressive 2 metre wingspan, Gannets travel huge distances to find food but are able to thrive from variety of fish species. They catch their prey by diving into the sea at speeds of up to 60mph. Chicks are flightless and mottled grey when they fledge – it can take up to 5 years for them to develop their full adult plumage.
All other seabirds nesting within the SPA are known as the ‘Seabird Assemblage’ and are also protected because of their importance to the wider North Sea population. This includes the Northern Fulmar, of which there are around 2,000 individuals, and the approximately 3,000 colourful Puffins. Other breeding seabirds considered part of the assemblage include Herring Gulls, European Shag and Great Cormorant.
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